The March 16, 2021 killing of 8 people connected to two different spas in Atlanta, Georgia explicitly targeted Asian Americans. While the details of the shootings are becoming more clear over time, there is no doubt that the tragedy was another horror in the growing number of hate crimes targeting the Asian American community. In February, 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee, an elderly Thai immigrant, was brutally beaten to death on the streets of San Francisco. National news outlets reported that hate crimes against Asian Americans increased by nearly 150% in 2020. While I’m grateful the media is covering these concerning increases, hatred against Asian Americans is not new. And why did it take such catastrophes as the deaths of Ratanapakdee and the Atlanta spa murders for the world to pay attention?
White supremacy is at the heart of anti-Asian hatred. American history is wrought with wrongs inflicted upon immigrants from China, Japan, and other parts of Asia. The very first act excluding immigrants to the United States specifically targeted Asian Americans in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. While Japanese Americans fought for the United States during the Second World War, many of their family members were detained and held in internment camps between 1942 and 1945. These are just some of the institutionalized ways anti-Asian racism has been systematically employed. This brief history doesn’t take into account the ideologies of “yellow peril” that pervade our society even today. The coronavirus pandemic and former President Trump’s identification of it as the “China-virus” only added fuel to the fire which allowed long seeded bigotry to rise to the surface manifesting itself in incidents of hatred including harassment, spitting on people of Asian descent, beatings, and escalating fears and exacerbating the emotional toll upon members of the Asian American community.
Any act of violence toward a person because of the color of their skin, their place of origin, their sexual orientation, their ability or special needs, or any other perceived difference goes beyond just a violation of being “politically incorrect.” Rather, such violence allows the seeds of discrimination, racism, sexism, homophobia, and other abhorrent “othering” to germinate within our society. We should be grieved by the smallest of offenses toward our Asian American neighbors – because when such hatred goes unaddressed, it has the potential to manifest itself in the worst of evils – such as the brutal killings that took so many Asian American lives in Atlanta this past week.
We must be vigilant in rooting out the racist and xenophobic ideas that have pervaded American society since its conception — assumptions such as white male superiority and dominance, and assumptions of white supremacy and privilege. We all must do more to stop hated toward Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, people of color, and to eradicate hatred wherever it exists. Violence against communities triggers loneliness and isolation. In speaking with one Asian American friend about her experiences of racism, she said maybe the isolation we have all experienced from the coronavirus pandemic will make non-Asians understand what extreme isolation can feel like. What would it mean for us to stand in solidarity with our Asian American neighbors? We must reject assumptions of white privilege and acknowledge the realities of white supremacy that still pervade in our society today. If there is any doubt? Watch the news and see how the families of those who died in Atlanta are grieving.
What can we do? Report incidents that you witness to groups like Stop AAIP (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Hate. Support community-based efforts that promote safety and restorative justice. Join with groups like the Anti-Defamation League, Say No to Christian Nationalism, Asian American Christian Collaborative, and others who are doing direct advocacy to address this issue. Sign this letter on “Saying No to Christian Nationalism” that specifically identifies ways the Christian community, especially evangelicals, must recognize and condemn the role Christian Nationalism plays in racist actions such as the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and the recent insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. In addition, a group of Christian organizations, led by mostly people of color, hosted a prayer vigil of lament in response to white Christian nationalism leading into Holy Week 2021. Consider joining them or others to grieve and stand in solidarity alongside our Asian American neighbors. They will be hosting a Week of Action responding to Christian Nationalism, anti-Asian hatred, and other injustices during the Week of May 16th. These are just initial steps we all must be willing to take to eradicate anti-Asian hatred.